Ferguson Marine, the last independent shipbuilder on the Clyde, made a pre-tax profit of £493,000 in the year to May 31. This was a strong turnaround from a £1.58 million loss in the prior 12 months, a period in which a hole had been left in its order book by the collapse of key renewable energy sector customer Subocean.
Turnover at Ferguson Marine, which is owned by chief executive Alan Dunnet of Holland House Electrical, more than doubled to £9.06m in the year to May 31 from £4.19m in the prior 12 months.
In their report on the accounts, which have just become available from Companies House, directors of Ferguson Marine say they are "delighted to be back building new vessels", particularly the hi-tech hybrid ferries for Caledonian MacBrayne fleet owner Caledonian Maritime Assets Limited (CMAL).
However, managing director Richard Deane yesterday emphasised Ferguson Marine's determination to continue to progress its diversification into the renewable energy sector. He noted a lot of this work related to the "mobilisation of barges" to lay export cables for the transfer of electricity from wind farms. This work had ranged from a complete fit-out of a bare barge to more minor re-fits of barges to allow them to undertake specific jobs.
Mr Deane told The Herald: "What we have tried to achieve over the last three or four years is a restructuring of the customer base. We want to hold on to that, even though we are back building ships. That gives us a bit of diversity in terms of what we do."
The directors, in their report, say the volume of work created in other marine sectors is very encouraging.
They add: "The return of the group to profitability is pleasing, especially given the tough competitive sectors in which we operate ...Workload for 2012/13 will be significantly increased, as will employment levels."
Mr Deane said Ferguson Marine's workforce, which had fallen to a low-point of around 90 during the financial year to May 2011, had since risen to about 140.
He highlighted the fact Ferguson Marine had taken on seven apprentices last month and said it had been three or four years since it had last taken on apprentices.
And he expressed hopes that the workforce could hit 200. He noted the peak workforce in the company's 110 years of existence had been around 350 about 10 years ago, when Ferguson was working on a lot of supply vessels for the North Sea, and said it would "never be higher than that" given space constraints.
Mr Deane said: "We are hiring people practically every week just now. Our employment level will go up in the next three to four months as well. We will see where it gets to."
He highlighted the importance of Ferguson Marine securing another major contract to ensure continued growth in employment and turnover.
He cited strong levels of inquiries from potential customers about other new-build vessels. These inquiries, he revealed, covered passenger ferries and vessels for the renewables sector.
He said: "The inquiry level ... is quite encouraging for new-build ships. I think people have deferred decisions for quite a while. Now, hopefully, there is a bit more optimism going forward. What we are seeing is there is a lot more inquiries out there just now. Whether they end up in real orders at the end of the day remains to be seen. You can only go by your inquiry level."
Asked to what level the workforce might climb, Mr Deane replied: "I would like to think we could maybe get to the 200 mark again, if we manage to secure a couple of larger orders."
Meanwhile, he noted that, at the end of this month, the giant AMT Trader barge would come into Ferguson's yard for a few weeks of work before it moved the next aircraft carrier unit from BAE Systems on the Clyde to Babcock's Rosyth dockyard.
The orders for the ferries being built for CMAL, awarded last November, are worth about £10m each.
Mr Deane noted these vessels would have batteries that could be recharged overnight from renewable energy sources.
The first of the ferries is due for completion around mid-2013, with the second scheduled to be finished in the third or fourth quarter of next year.
Mr Deane said some of Ferguson's smaller customers were "still having great difficulty obtaining the loans to do the things they want to do".